Where the 2016 Presidential Candidates Stand on Marijuana Legalization.
By Melanie Marquis
If you own a cannabis-based business or work in the recreational marijuana industry, there's a big reason besides politics to start paying attention to the 2016 Presidential race. Depending on who gets elected and how much our new President's influence is able to sway the direction of U.S. Policy, your very livelihood could be at stake. While it's never clear what a candidate's actual policies will be once they get into office, the things they've said in the past can indeed provide strong indications.
The Marijuana Policy Project website provides an evaluation of such indications, and their ratings provide cause for alarm. Only one viable candidate received a grade “A” on their policy regarding legalized marijuana—Bernie Sanders. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton scored a “B,” Donald Trump a mediocre “C+,” and Marco Rubio an even lower grade of “D.”
To help you evaluate these candidates for yourself, we've compiled a sampling of relevant quotes from these politicians and their campaigns. Take a look, and if anything concerns you, be sure to do further research so that you can be sure to know who (and for what) you are voting for.
Marco Rubio: If one thing positive can be said about Marco Rubio's position on legal cannabis, it's that at least he makes his stance on the issue very clear. When he was a guest on the Hugh Hewitt Radio Show in February 2015, he was asked if he would enforce federal law and shut down the legal recreational marijuana industry in Colorado. Rubio responded, “Yes. Yes, I think, well, I think we need to enforce our federal laws. Now do states have a right to do what they want? They don't agree with it, but they have their rights. But they don't have a right to write federal policy as well.” He goes on to explain, “I don't believe we should be in the business of legalizing additional intoxicants in this country for the primary reason that when you legalize something, what you're sending a message to young people is it can't be that bad, because if it was that bad, it wouldn't be legal.” He reiterated that view at a Meet the Press conference in August of 2015, when he was asked if he would enforce federal law in states where cannabis legal. Rubio responded, “Absolutely. I believe that the federal government needs to enforce federal law.” Earlier this year, Rubio was quoted in the Washington Times as saying, “There is no responsible way to smoke marijuana repeatedly. There's nothing good about it.”
Donald Trump: Trump's position, however, seems to change with the times. Way back in 1990, he favored the legalization of all drugs, calling the War on Drugs a failure. But when asked at a conference last June how he felt about Colorado's legalization of cannabis, Trump stated, “I say it's bad. Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think it's bad, and I feel strongly about it.” At an event just a few months later in October, Trump had this to say: “Marijuana is such a big thing. I think medical should happen—right? Don't we agree? I think so. And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states.” He then went on to mention Colorado specifically, saying, “And of course you have Colorado. And I love Colorado and the people are great, but there's a question as to how it's all working out there, you know? That's not going exactly trouble-free. So I really think that we should study Colorado, see what's happening.”
Hillary Clinton: Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton seems generally positive about marijuana legalization at the state level, but seems hesitant to take an official position one way or another. In 2015, Clinton aired her support for legalization in Colorado, saying, “I really believe it’s important that states like Colorado lead the way, so that we can learn what works and what doesn’t work. And I would certainly not want the federal government to interfere with the legal decision made by the people of Colorado, and enforced by your elected officials, as to how you should be conducting this business that you have approved.” As a guest on WBZ Radio in January 2016, Clinton was asked about her stance on marijuana legalization and replied, “I think that states are the laboratories of democracy, and four states have already taken action to legalize, and it will be important that other states and the federal government take account of how that’s being done, what we learn from what they’re doing. I think that the states moving forward is appropriate and I think the federal government has to move to make this more available for research that they can then distribute to interested people across our country.” She went on to explain, “I do think on the federal level we need to remove marijuana from the Schedule I of drugs, move it to Schedule II, which will permit it to be the basis for medical research because it’s important that we learn as much as possible.”
Bernie Sanders: Bernie Sanders is the only candidate so far to take a clear and undeniable stance in favor of federal marijuana legalization. As a senator, Sanders introduced legislation in November 2015 that would result in marijuana being removed from the federal list of controlled substances, and allow states the power to regulate and tax marijuana if they have the desire to do so. Under Sanders's plan, cannabis-based businesses would also be ensured fair and non-discriminatory access to banking services and standard tax deductions just like any other business. According to the Bernie Sanders campaign website, “Bernie favors removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances regulated by federal law. Under Bernie’s proposal, people in states which legalize marijuana no longer would be subject to federal prosecution for using pot. Owners of stores that sell marijuana could fully participate in the banking system, like any other business.” Sanders also seems to favor reforming the way marijuana cases are handled in America's justice system, stating, “Someone in the United States is arrested every minute on marijuana charges. Too many Americans have seen their lives destroyed because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That’s wrong. That has got to change.”
Why it Matters:Currently, federal laws against marijuana cause complications for many cannabis-based business entrepreneurs in states where commercial cannabis is legal, and the federal classification of marijuana as a schedule 1 controlled substance prevents hemp production and manufacturing from being economically viable under present law. Meanwhile, more and more states are seeing voter-led ballot initiatives to make recreational cannabis legal, and states like Colorado where it is already legal are experiencing the benefits of massive profit. Whoever wins the next Presidential election will likely hold heavy sway on determining which way the tide will turn.
Marijuana Policy Project, “Where Do they Stand on Marijuana Policy,” Marijuana Policy Project, accessed March 11, 2016, https://www.mpp.org/2016-presidential-candidates/
“Trump Softens Position on Marijuana Legalization,” by Jenna Johnson, The Washington Post online, October 29, 2015, accessed March 11, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2015/10/29/trump-wants-marijuana-legalization-decided-at-the-state-level/